Big Day

The U.S. Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in the Grokster case today. This is a very important case because the future of civilized society depends on people being able to download music on the Internet for free.

The core legal issue seems to be whether things like Kazaa are entitled to the same legal protections as VCRs. The Court ruled in the 1980s that Sony couldn't be sued for copyright infringement simply because their devices were used to copy movies illegally. The copying itself was punishable, but the MPAA wanted to cut the individual violators off at the source (and also get themselves a dickload of money) by going after the VCR manufacturers. The Court refused to extend liability to manufacturers of devices used to violate copyright laws. Though defeated, the MPAA quickly adapted to the legally untouchable technology, and thus was born the video rental industry.

So, the Court could do a few things here. They could uphold the Ninth Circuit (which, like, never happens) and hold that Grokster is just like a VCR, and therefore the MPAA and RIAA have to continue going after college students and other ne'er-do-wells. They could come up with some wacky distinction between the two devices and impose liability on Grokster while preserving Sony. Finally, there's the doom scenario: the Court overrules Sony and grossly expands copyright liability. At that point every iPod in the country will simultaneously self-destruct and the Earth will fall into the sun.

I imagine this is one case where the Court clerks will be in total control of the outcome. Also encouraging is the fact that, while the entertainment industry has a complete stranglehold on Congress (mark my words - the copyright on Mickey Mouse will never expire), the Court seems more than willing to put them in their place. What I really think will happen is that the Court will produce an extremely factured set of opinions that will needlessly convolute U.S. copyright laws even further, and Boalt's IP professors will have a lot to write about for years to come.

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This page contains a single entry by hb published on March 29, 2005 9:29 AM.

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